Cherokee Press Association
Muskogee Daily Phoenix
Copyright © 1997 Muskogee Phoenix
Allegations of more covert surveillance of tribal marshals and a Cherokee citizen surfaced Friday in the month-old Cherokee Nation crisis.
The FBI has been investigating the illegal taping of phone conversations involving Cherokee citizens, elected officials and a tribal judge. Principal Chief Joe Byrd alleges the illegal tape is evidence of a conspiracy to overthrow his administration.
Parties involved say the FBI has assured them no evidence of a conspiracy exists.
Friday, four Cherokees complained to authorities of being under surveillance, Cherokee County Under sheriff Dan Garber said.
One tribal marshal and a Cherokee citizen claim members of a new tribal faction sworn in last week by Byrd are involved.
Two tribal marshals can't identify who was responsible.
"We've received some complaints that an unidentified car stopped in front of two marshal's houses and videotaped the houses," Garber said.
An investigation by the tribal prosecutor into alleged misappropriation of federal funds by the tribe's administration has divided the tribe.
The chief and his supporters are pitted against the prosecutor and the tribe's highest court, the Judicial Appeals Tribunal. The court has ordered no one interfere with the investigation. The Department of Interior and FBI are investigating any violations of federal law.
Byrd has maintained his administration has done nothing illegal.
The tribal prosecutor's investigation was prompted by allegations federal program funds were being used illegally to pay outside attorneys and a tribal law clerk on loan to the Democratic National Committee since July.
Tribal records reflect a Tulsa law firm headed by Byrd's brother-in-law, Terry Barker has received more than $1 million for work done for the tribe and two of its business entities.
Byrd fired Marshal Service Director Pat Ragsdale and Lt. Sharon Wright within minutes after they led marshals on a raid of tribal offices Feb.25, where copies of documents were seized.
The tribunal immediately reinstated Ragsdale and Wright and ordered no one interfere with the marshals completing the criminal investigation.
Byrd ignored the order, saying he would obey only orders he considers legal.
In further defiance of the court, Byrd fired the other 12 marshals last week and cut off all their financial support. After ignoring an order to restore funding, Byrd was charged Thursday with obstruction of justice.
A neighbor alerted marshals Steve Garner and Mickey Spears their houses had been videotaped Thursday, Garber said.
Whoever videotaped Spears' home drove about 1/8 mile on Spear's land in order to do so, Garber said.
"It's scary." Garner said. "I have children on spring break. It's a violation to me for someone to do that."
The neighbor described the surveillance vehicle as a dark green Ford Taurus, Garber said. A similar vehicle driven by one of Byrd's new security officers is a dark green Buick, said Cherokee Nation Inspector General Bob Powell. He said he doesn't believe any of his officers were involved in the videotaping incidents.
Wright said an incident Friday is the second scare her family has had involving someone watching the family's home.
She and her daughter recognized at least one member of Byrd's new security force in a silver Crown Victoria that drove by her home repeatedly March 22, she said. The vehicle stopped about 1/8 of a mile south of her house and turned its light toward her back yard, she said.
"My daughter became frightened." Wright said.
Friday, her dogs barked for five minutes before her daughter investigated and found a silver Crown Victoria in Wright's west driveway. The car pulled out and drove away.
Powell said he believes the officers turned around in Wright's driveway while patrolling Byrd's home about one mile from Wright's on Stick Mountain Road.
Several turnarounds are much closer to Byrd's home, including a circle turnaround, Wright said.
Family members are frightened by the incidents, she said.
Keith Phillips of Sapulpa complained to Garber of being followed on a public highway by three members of Byrd's new security force Tuesday night.
Phillips was followed from the tribal complex after inquiring and being told there was no public meeting in progress.
Phillips took picture in the parking lot "in case it was council members meeting illegally."
Phillips said he stopped at a fast food restaurant for about 20 minutes and upon leaving the officers pulled in behind him again.
He later waved down a Cherokee Nation marshal and pulled into a parking lot. As he approached Byrd's officers to inquire why they were following him, they drove off, Phillips said.
Wednesday morning he approached Clint Vernon, one of Byrd's officers, and reported Vernon told him the men followed him to get his tag number to see who he was.
Garber said he submitted his report about Phillip's complaint to the district attorney's office and was advised nothing illegal took place.
Powell said Vernon was suspicious of Phillips' actions Tuesday night and checked him out.
Phillips and Byrd got into a verbal confrontation Wednesday after a court hearing when Phillips asked Byrd if he could cite an article of the Cherokee Constitution. Byrd asked Phillips if he could speak Cherokee and Phillips said "some." Byrd spoke briefly in Cherokee, then said in English he didn't have to answer any of Phillips questions.
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